NETmundial: Going Forward

May 17, 2014

2014-04-23 06.26.28In a brilliant rhetorical move, civil society representative Nnenna Nwakanma proclaimed in the opening ceremony of NETmundial, “My name is Nnenna. I come from the Internet.” In articulating Internet citizenship Nnenna downplays statehood and promotes an internet inhabited by global citizens, or netizens, connected and sharing a common resource – a global commons; an inspiring vision that also suggests the human rights obligation of governments and private industry to enable this vision in the future management and development of the Internet, the web, the mobile web, digital networked communications –as a public resource and utility.

One successful outcome of NETMundial could be found in the details of the outcome document, suggests Mueller, parsing the inclusion of “full and balanced participation of all stakeholders” that replaces “rights and responsibilities” language in the Tunis Agenda (2005). This could suggest that civil society might be considered to be on more equal footing with the state. In addition to the outcome document,  a concerted expression of support was made for the IGF as the appropriate forum for IG discussions and that it should be financially supported (perhaps subsidised by ICANN) and made sustainable. This would help hosting countries float the forum and could provide support for the Ministerial staff, Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), Dynamic Coalitions, Civil Society and Academic Participants.


Such a rousing start was followed by speeches from founding inventors of the Net (Vint Cerf) and Web (Sir Tim Berners Lee), followed by President Rouseff’s signing of Marco Civil and speech coinciding with a pro-Snowden demonstration in the audience.

Mass surveillance was a central concern going into NETmundial, however other general themes would carry NETmundial forward including: human rights, a global commons, multistakeholderism, transparency, privacy, development, and access.

2014-04-22 09.36.03In the weeks and months leading up to NETmundial, the Executive Multistakeholder Committee (EMC) solicited and received over 180 content contributions from civil society (including the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition statement). These contributions were aggregated and condensed into the “penultimate draft agreement” leading up to NETmundial (first leaked by Wikileaks), which sought to transpose human rights to online principles, including protection from mass surveillance with the “necessary and proportionate principle,” intermediary liability protections, network neutrality, and open interoperable standards (F/OSS). However, some of the wording articulated in the leaked document was removed or altered in the final preliminary draft that was open to annotation a couple of short days before the event (e.g., removal of “free flow of information”). How these solicited annotations were then edited into the preconference workshop draft and how the daylong preconference workgroup contributions were integrated into the draft available for the NETmundial conference proper, is unclear to me.

Transparency in the process

Unlike most IGFs, the deliberative plenary process at NETmundial encouraged stakeholders to line up into four lines behind microphones according to their respective stakeholder identities and provide concrete suggestions on the outcome document (see: Netmundial transcriptions).

However, the criteria for accepting suggestions on an article and the process of incorporating new comments by the High Level Commission was unclear. Ultimately, many important decisions, omissions, and changes occurred at the last table, where stakeholders closed ranks and threatened to veto the entire document altogether unless compromises were made. Transparency in the process was not perfect – the final cut happened at the drafting table, with no input accepted from observers in the room. No video or audio recording of the meeting took place, only still images and eye-witnesses. Nevertheless transparency understood as bodies in a room and words on a page does not amount to equal access and participation. It was striking that with all of the civil society input going into the drafting, the real power was at the last table, in the final cut.

2014-04-24 15.43.44

A comprehensive study of the NETmundial process is surely underway by many who organized the civil society effort to help leverage civil society’s influence at various points throughout. There should be scrutiny into various aspects of the collaborative drafting and negotiating process to account for:

– discrepancies between drafts

– the process of obtaining consensus

– pressure from powerful stakeholders

– the process of synthesizing contributions

– basic diplomatic constraints

– coordination efforts among civil society

– the composition of stakeholders within important committees (as Robin Gross of IP Justice suggests).

Indeed, researchers are also hashing out analyses of the transformation of key language and phrasing; chasing down the evolution of a particular issue or article (e.g., intellectual property) in both the principles and roadmap sections. Although it is unclear what the influence of the nonbinding outcome document will be (in the normative sense of guiding future policy recommendations), the effort can point to productive ways forward.

Outcome and Way Forward

The panache of Brazilian coordinators, hosts, technical support, and ground crew organized by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee ( and /1Net pulled off a world class event in half a year, bringing together 1500 stakeholders from 97 countries. In spite of a compromising end result, the themes and impetus of the opening day of NETmundial reverberated throughout the conference, especially the Internet as a common good, a public utility, and a global commons rooted in the protection of fundamental human rights. The problem, of course, would be how these rights are interpreted, and how they intersect and at times compete with one another.

2014-04-24 07.15.51Another positive outcome was the experiment with a more interactive and accessible deliberative plenary process (four open divided lines to provide inputs to the draft) which included the enhanced integration of remote participation efforts, where remote participants from 23 countries were skilfully integrated into the public comment sessions. And yet, greater integration of the back-channel (twitter feeds of comments using conference hashtags) could have been achieved; perhaps by projecting the twitter streams onto one of the six contiguous screens in the plenary, and then incorporating tweets into the floor discussion.

At NETmundial, civil society could have coordinated their statements for greater impact, pursued strategic alliances, and better anticipated the positions of government and private actors and their strategic alliances; for example, Hollywood and US government colluded in support of intermediary liability, whereas Civil Society and ISPs (and IAPs) could have aligned in support for intermediary liability protections. This anticipation also involves identifying rights language that could predictably receive state support and to push for this language throughout the process. In my own conversations with US State Dept. officials regarding inclusion of rights to anonymity and to use encryption (IRP Charter 8e) in the outcome document, these officials voiced support, however these rights did not find purchase in the draft discussions and were omitted.

A welcome influence at NETmundial was the participation of the activist technical community (TOR, pirate parties, hackers), making cogent comments and contributing to discussions that may impact rights-based internet policy and legislation. Activists have clearly succeeded in doing just that with New Zealand Green Party’s introduction of the Internet Rights and Freedom Bill (based on the IRP Charter) the very day Marco Civil was signed. (Admittedly, next-day revelations of US moves to undercut network neutrality was a bit of a blow).

Going forward to IGF2014 and beyond, building greater public awareness and Internet policy literacy is needed to encourage continued digital media activism and internet rights advocacy (or “capacity building”). In this way we can ensure strong support within negotiated drafting sessions and plenaries that human rights are not negotiable.





Launch of the NZ Green Party’s Internet Rights and Freedom Bill

April 23, 2014

Launch of the NZ Green Party’s Internet Rights and Freedom Bill



from the Steering Committee of the Internet Rights & Principles Coalition, UN Internet Governance Forum


Date: 23 April 2014



Date: 23 April 2014


The Internet Rights and Principles Coalition (IRP Coalition) of the UN Internet Governance Forum applaud the release of the NZ Green Party’s Internet Rights and Freedoms Bill for public consultation. The IRF Bill is a pioneering project for the internet in New Zealand to ensure that the protection and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms online are tangible and enforceable by law.


At this time the world has witnessed how human rights can be undermined in the online environment as well as on the ground. Recent events, the Snowden revelations in particular, underscore the need to embed laws and remedies in rights-based principles for internet policy making at the national and international level. The NZ Green Party has shown courage and foresight in putting the Internet Rights and Freedoms Bill forward at this time, showing leadership and cross-party commitment in their undertaking to make the legally authoritative Bill available for public consultation.


This follows in the footsteps of the spirit of multi-stakeholder participation that the UN Internet Governance Forum has forged. It is also inspiring for the IRP Coalition, and all those involved in the Charter of Human Rights and Principles process (IRPC Charter) since its inception in 2008, to see New Zealand be the first country to pick up the mantle from Brazil’s pioneering Marco Civil, to bring human rights and principles for the internet into the heart of democratic political processes.


The launch of the IRF Bill for the New Zealand context also underscores ongoing efforts by the international community to frame the future of the internet within international human rights law and norms. Wth this Bill the NZ Greens are taking up this challenge to put rights-based principles for the internet, now on the agenda of the 2014 Internet Governance Forum and the Net Mundial Meeting in Brazil which is drawing to a conclusion today, into practice.


We are particularly impressed with some of the innovative elements of the Bill; e.g. proposals for an Internet Rights Commissioner and Chief Technology Officer who can ensure that the rights and responsibilities outlined in this Bill also include remedies, the emphasis on environmentally sustainable internet development, the accessibility for all provisions, and the recognition of public service commitments to an affordable, equitable, and multiculturally accessible internet future for all New Zealanders.


We would like to note our appreciation for the recognition that the NZ Green Party has given to the IRPC Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet in its role as the formative framework for the IRF Bill. This launch today sees the NZ Green Party join forces with other intergovernmental and civil society organizations who have been engaging the IRPC Charter over the last few years; e.g. the Council of Europe’s Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users and Hivos International’s Click Rights education and awareness-raising campaign in the Middle East and North African region.


We also acknowledge the invaluable role that Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, and the UN Human Rights Council have played in this shift from aspiration to human rights-based legislation by recognizing that power holders in the online environment also have legal obligations to “exercise their power responsibly, refrain from violating human rights respect, protect, and fulfill them to the fullest extent possible” (IRPC Charter, Clause 20; IRPC Charter Booklet, 2013, page 26).


As this Bill begins its journey from draft legislation and into the NZ lawbooks after a full and inclusive period of public consultation the IRP Coalition is committed to supporting this initiative by providing advice and support, as well as feedback on the text during this period of public consultation. The IRP Coalition Steering Committee looks forward to releasing the IRF Bill to the wider coalition at this launch so that the IRPC can provide a range of feedback into the process.


Steering Committee of the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition, UN Internet Governance Forum


To view or participate in the public consultation on the Bill, go to 



Workshop Report – Bali IGF 2013 Workshop #99: Charting the Charter

April 15, 2014

Bali IGF 2013 Workshop #99: Charting the Charter This round table session explored the opportunities and challenges for upholding human rights standards on the internet using the IRP Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet ( In tandem with the session on Disabilities and Indigenous rights this session aims to: • Address a number of human rights – moving beyond freedom of expression and privacy – to consider the IRP Charter provisions for socio-economic rights, education, women’s rights and rights of the visually impaired in the online environment. • Provide an assessment of the implementation of human rights standards on the internet to date. • Feed recommendations in to the IRP Coalition initiative to create a final version of the IRP Charter (in terms of substance, process, and uses of the document in practice) Joy Liddicoat, APC, Civil Society, New Zealand Marianne Franklin, IRP Coalition/Goldsmiths University, Academia/Civil Society, New Zealand Pranesh Prakash, Centre for Internet and Society, Civil Society, India Michael Nelson, Microsoft, Private Sector, USA Carl Fredrik Wettermark, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government, Sweden Main points of Discussion from each Speaker: Dixie Hawtin (Global Partners, former co-Chair IRP Coalition): Overview of genesis and writing of the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet as presented in the booklet form at Bali IGF. Pranesh Prakash (CIS, India) – Disabilities Rights and Issues: What is still lacking is 1) More thorough monitoring of whether, and if so how existing guidelines for ensuring full internet access for people with disabilities, are being met. 2) Using F/OSS and open standards platform as primary form of affordable internet access and content. 3) Notes that have to connect high level principles, and progress made there (e.g. the WIPO Marrakech Treaty) to on the ground needs and make them operable. Joy Liddicoat (APC): Ways of using the IRP Charter highlights how recent women’s rights are in the UN context. Things evolving all the time, new standards emerging, to which the Charter needs to keep speaking and responding to as new forms of technology are also creating new forms of violence. Here the IRP Charter can facilitate and enable more diverse human rights organizations to come into internet discussions e.g. its provision around right to international order is one that can link into other rights based movement Michael Nelson (Microsoft): Focus was practical question of how companies respond to Charters and Human Rights principles in light of how MS is promoting Human Rights in its company policies and software R&D around the world. Microsoft is taking concrete steps to comply with UN rights, and ILO Rights and Fundamental Principles at Work. Carl Frederik Wettermark (Swedish Government): Provided practical suggestions for how documents like the Charter matter for governments: 1) internet governance is a complex and difficult terrain so templates such as the Charter offer an entry point to grasping this complexity. 2) Concrete outputs such as the Charter play very important role in setting things in motion as governments respond to incoming ideas and documentation as opposed to having time to generate them. A single document that can focus is here constructive. 3) More targeted outreach can also start bridging the disconnect between domestic and foreign policy making also only starting to be bridged, nexus where internet policy making operates. 4) Commended IRP Coalition on the work and is just starting to be circulated as government officials exchange these inputs for their work. Marianne Franklin (Goldsmiths/IRP Coalition): Focusing on 1) the classroom and how the IRP Charter can educate at all levels, high school and university in particular as digital generation become aware that online they have rights too. 2) On how the Charter sections on Right to Education, Knowledge and Cultural Diversity need also to take account of access and affordability issues that are not immediately apparent as cash-strapped universities sign up to commercial internet service provisions. 3) Specific sections of the IRP Charter, e.g. Rights of Children, Women’s Rights have already been effective for outreach, as have the Ten Principles. Still work to do in fleshing out individual sections in response to changing context in which schools and universities go online for teaching and learning; virtual learning environments now the main platform for accessing and acquiring new knowledge. DISCUSSION A general discussion followed on how the IRP Charter has already been working, and put into practice as well as feedback on the Charter itself: Points covered included: • Using the document in courses opens minds to other IG questions beyond FoE and Privacy • Support from the floor to promote this booklet as a definitive version, albeit one open to further revisions hence the generational naming (Version 1.1) • Questions about “orphan issues” at the IGF and whether these can be addressed through work on the upcoming ICANN-Brazil 2014 Summit proposal • A number of suggestions about Current version in terms of refinements and next steps including balance between rights and principles in this document. • Ideas about moving with Charter from big ideas to everyday, real life practicalities • One other way, and one forged by the Charter is to frame lawmaking at the national, regional, and even the global level. • Some criticisms about whether interdependent rights are not in fact contradictory and so self-defeating, hence scepticism about the Charter finding its way into hard law • Suggestion to advocate that this Charter be included in the International monitoring system on whether states are compliant with the Charter’s minimum standards. Outcomes – more targeted outreach to consolidate success of the release of Version 1.1 – Integrate Charter into process of the Universal Periodic Review – move forward with generating feedback about the Charter with a view to producing a next version to respond to developments and address some lacunae in the text – move forward in promoting the Charter to organizations at ground level who need to have template for linking human rights with internet governance as internet access, design, and use become integral to human rights activism, and the latter become a focus online.

IGF2013 Workshop Report – No. 276 Rights Issues for Disadvantaged Groups

April 15, 2014


Please provide a brief substantive summary of the workshop and present the main issues that were raised during the discussions *


This workshop set out to address particular challenges for disadvantaged groups in enjoying a “people centered, inclusive and development-oriented information society” on the Internet. And it proposed ways of meeting these challenges in support of universal access, effective use, and specialized services for disadvantaged populations that include: the physically disabled, non-technical and oral cultures,

and the digitally disadvantaged within rural and remote communities.


Five participants were asked to make brief introductory statements indicating the context and circumstances for their own groups, focusing on specific cases and examples of how disability and/or marginalization affect access and use of the internet.


Issues discussed and the roles of stakeholders mentioned in the opening statements included:


  • importance of open access to information to government data.
  • last mile delivery
  • barriers (cost, cultural)
  • accessible design barriers in design, accessible technologies
  • need to break down and eliminate these barriers and highlighting
  • need for accessibility and inclusiveness, availability and awareness
  • discrimination from a legal perspective
  • gap between substance of the law and reality in the design
  • at the state level there is a public-private divide, where digital by default not yet feasible
  • at the international level, there is a need for focal groups to develop and enshrine the rights to accessibility technology and technological change.
  • rights of marginalized, vulnerable groups.
  • access to information – how to be safe and responsible online
  • education, training in how to be safe and responsible at the same time – an important component to access.
  • national strategy of inclusion of use of strategies for vulnerable and marginalized groups with ICTs
  • many experiences of marginalization are shared among different groups – encapsulated by the notion of intersectionality
  • gender is an important component when discussing access, openness, technology, usage, and who is effected. For example women with disabilities face double discrimination.
  • need to factor gender and sexual minorities, sexual rights activities
  • sexual and reproductive rights (safe and legal abortion)
  • Safe sex education content
  • LGBT rights



The roles of important stakeholders identified as part of the solution included:

  • libraries front and center
  • cooperation among the technical community and businesses (the private sector).
  • designers – accessibility and creativity not mutually exclusive
  • policy makers at various levels, businesses, designers, and lawmakers
  • activists



Following these initial interventions the moderator asked the panelists to pose questions for the audience, designed to get the audience to participate at a substantive level. The panelists asked:


  • What are some tangible measures to bring about change in accessibility design?
  • How to design access and inclusion?
  • What are some tools, platforms, and incentives to allow people to access?
  • What can we do in addition to accessibility design?
  • For indigenous communities, what happens after access?
  • Are market incentives as way forward in universal design



Following these initial interventions the audience, together with the panelists, explored additional factors, issues to consider, and covered the following areas:


  • Vulnerability of oral communities and indigenous communities
  • Selective accessibility
  • Language barriers
  • Need to get away from individual characteristics of disability that puts the onus on individual the user and embrace “Universal Access”
  • Disability is not a niche issue at the design and use levels.
  • Need to Ingrain inclusive legal frameworks into the regulation of technology
  • Internet Governance should support physical infrastructure (as well as design of accessibility technologies).
  • How does policy affects people with disabilities?
  • What are some success factors and challenges?
  • Need for national strategy – to coordinate between ministries




Conclusions drawn from the workshop and further comments *


The workshop drew the following the conclusions:


  • Defined and broadened the understanding of disadvantaged groups as well as informed the definition of inclusiveness to include: gender and sexual minorities, indigenous populations, oral communities, the homeless, youth, remote participants, and the elderly.



  • Identified the critically important roll of end users to be involved from the “ground up” in discussions, research, and design of accessibility technology and policy in order to best identify tangible problems and solutions, and to identify the needs.


  • The notion of intersectionality (or “Joined up thinking”) – that problems and solutions intersect among marginalized groups can help identify broad problems in ICTs addressing the needs of marginalized groups.


  • There is an urgent need for coordination between policy makers, ministries, designers, users, and effected populations. And Internet Governance can help in coordinating this, as well as NGOs and research groups, technical community, existing institutions – specifically libraries, and disadvantaged end users as the most important stakeholders.


  • To make access and inclusiveness a default.






“Right to a good name in the world of social media”

April 18, 2013

Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 10.42.20 AM

(This talk is intended to offer a concrete understanding of the implications of this issue in the digital era).

Online reputation is becoming more and more valuable both in our public and private lives.

Future employers, schools, your friends and neighbors are looking you up online to gain a better sense of who you really are.

They are Googleing your names, checking you out on FB, examining traces that you leave when you post on social network sites like fb, twitter, pinterest, tumblr, youtube, blogs, message boards, etc.

All of these traces in the cloud can be very difficult to monitor and remove –

What you post on SNSs can persist for decades, even when you log out, leave a social media site, terminate your accounts.

The problem is that even though online reputations are becoming more important to our personal sense of well being

and more valuable to our professional lives, they may be becoming more difficult to manage.

I want to talk about the problem of maintaining a good name on social network sites

And I hope to discuss how you can be empowered to use social media

guided by a healthy respect for the rights of others and of yourselves.

The right to a good name.

First of all,

Why is reputation important? –

Reputation is linked to our identities – how we feel about ourselves?

It can be connected to a sense of well being, sense of security, self-image.

It also relates to personal freedom – we don’t want to feel constrained by the perception of having a bad reputation.

The research shows that with 95% of all teens online and 80% of them being users of social media, most teens have witnessed mean or cruel behavior on social networks,

with 15% who say they were the target of cruel or mean behavior on social network sites,

and 21% of social media-using teens say they have personally joined in on the harassment of others on a social network site (Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites 
Nov 9, 2011Amanda Lenhart

We want to be who we want to be

Perhaps we don’t want to limit someone else’s freedom in this way as well.

Online harassment – does real harm and it includes

Insults, denigration, impersonation, exclusion, outing, hacking

(stealing information, breaking into accounts, damaging profiles).

Cyberbullying is online harassment repeated over time and involves a power imbalance between the perpetrator and victim.

Who is left angry, frustrated, sad, embarrassed and scared, and which can lead to self-harm.

Let’s watch two videos that illustrate this issue –  the first is produced by Mount St Joseph Communication and New Media students (the other is not):

The right to a good name is so important that it is deeply embedded in international human rights standards, religious values, and legal protections.

It is enshrined in the UDHR adopted by the UN General Council in response to the horrors humanity experienced during the Second World War

Which finally became international law in 1976.

Right to reputation is featured prominently in Article 12 of the Encyclical of Pope John XXIII – Pacem in Terris

And it is also featured in the Charter of Internet  Rights and Principles for the Internet, drafted by the

UN based advocacy coalition Internet Rights and Principles, translated into over 20 languages, and

(of which I happen to be a steering member for the last five years)

Reputation protection is enshrined in international human rights standards, religious doctrine, as well as in law

Defamation laws  exist throughout the world that are intended to enforce the right to a good name.

but what about the protection of the right to a good name online? Does it exist, do we want it to exist?

There is a powerful federal law the Communication Decency Act of 1996 (Section 230)

That protects intermediaries( including social network sites and bloggers)

from any legal claim arising from hosting information written by third parties – that’s you the user.

“Intermediaries are not liable for content;” are not legally responsible (and its not technically feasible or desirable)

So who is legally responsible for what is posted on SNSs?

There have been recent exceptions to this– for example model Liskula Cohen  launched a defamation case against a blogger  Rosemary Port on the site SKANK, and also sued Google for $15m. in damages.

Typically, legal recourse is rarely taken – its  unsuccessful, unrealistic, expensive, and can cause further embarrassment.

A worrying trend in defamation litigation is the misuse of defamation laws in order to violate other rights

For example in many countries defamation statutes are being used to curb free speech and censor criticism against totalitarian governments.

And they are being used to undermine defenders of human rights in S. Africa, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Russia

Added to this, entertainment companies (copyright holders) – the motion picture and recording industries – are exploring defamation law

as a way to access users’ identities – violating their right to privacy –  in order to prosecute the illegal downloading of movies and popular music (mp3s).

So if we cannot rely on the social network sites themselves to govern our online communication, and we would probably not want this even if it were possible,

and if defamation litigation is not realistic and worse can be used to violate other rights including freedom of expression and the right to privacy,

Then who has the power to govern communication on social networks?

You have the power to be more mindful, respectful, and kind in your online interactions, on social networks,

In order to uphold each other’s rights to a good name, now and in the decades to follow.

The power lies with you.

Thank you

IR13 Session: “The Ubiquitous Internet”

October 13, 2012

Salford, Greater Manchester, UK  ·  October 18 -21, 2012

Session 001: “The Ubiquitous Internet” Friday, 19/Oct/2012: 4:40pm – 6:10pm, Location: 0.11. Session Chair: Anja Bechmann

Looking forward to our presentation The Ubiquitous Internet, which will include: Anja Bechmann1, Stine Lomborg2, William Dutton3, Grant Blank3, Christine von Seelen Schou4, Robert Bodle5, Laura DeNardis6

1Aarhus University, Denmark; 2University of Copenhagen, Denmark; 3Oxford Internet Institute (UK); 4The University of Copenhagen (DK); 5College of Mount St. Joseph (US); 6American University (US)

My presentation below (full session overview here) –

Monetizing Social Media: The conditions for sharing 

Robert Bodle, College of Mount St. Joseph (US)

This presentation looks at the conditions for sharing on Facebook and its over 300 million partner websites, by identifying the tacit agreement between internet companies and users – that we get useful and interesting online services in exchange for the disclosure of our personal information. Increased advertising revenue provides incredible incentives for mining user data obtained via social network sites and services. Although people are increasingly concerned about how their information may be used, it is still difficult to get the full picture, which, I argue, is intentional.

To get a fuller picture of the conditions for sharing, I analyse the relationships between Facebook and its third-party advertising ecosystem, utilizing extensive internet industry press coverage, Public comments by Facebook’s Developer Blog and management team, as well as Facebook’s public communications in interviews and trade conferences. I apply a political economy approach (Terranova 2000; Mosco 2009; Wasco & Erickson 2009) to evaluate the conflict of interest between market logic and user needs. Additionally, I apply the progressive and humanistic ideals of liberalism (McChesney 2007) and cross-cultural communication ethics (Ess 2009), to assess the social, cultural, and political implications of personalization.

I provide a current appraisal of Facebook’s human/algorithmic hybridization practices used to personalize the web experience for social advertising revenue. I then look at the intended and unintended consequences of personalization, which includes limiting our exposure to different points of view, enabling entrenched political polarization, and discouraging consensus, critical thinking, and tolerance of diversity and appreciation of people’s irreducible differences. Ultimately, this presentation argues for the need to change the conditions for sharing on social network sites (granular control, transparency of how information is used, and regulated security measures to protect our data), and suggests that opt-in defaults be the Internet standard for data-driven advertising practices.

Ten principles of the political economy of social movement media

May 15, 2012

Ten principles to start an analysis of the political economy of social movement media, by John D. H. Downing (May 12, 2012), from his UDC plenary address after receiving the Dallas Smythe Award.




  1. What is the glocal, political, and economic conjunctive generating the social movement in question?
  2. What are the movement’s objectives and scale?
  3. What is the movement’s time span and cyclical phase?
  4. What is the shifting weight of different wings and factions within the movement?
  5. What is the strength and flexibility of communication flows between base and leadership.
  6. Which media formats are accessible to which media activists?
  7. What is the quality of archived and accumulated democratic media practice experience? Organizationally? Aesthetically?
  8. What is the efficiency of the state’s surveillance and enforcement over movement communications?
  9. What degree of normal credibility do mainstream entertainment and news media enjoy? How porous are they?
  10. Is the movement operating during a moment of significant hegemonic disintegration (a crucial breech)?

Critical Studies of Social Media

April 13, 2012

Here is an attempt to lay out  my research in social media (approach, methodology, philosophical assumptions), and formulate my framework –  “Critical Studies of Social Media.”

This approach is a meta-synthesis, critical-interpretive approach to the analysis of structures and discourses of social media. My research paradigm (Cresswell, 2009) is prescriptive and normative, meaning I often analyze how things are and how they should be, offering recommendations based on my research and analysis. My philosophical worldview is advocacy/participatory, which indicates that the research is driven by an “action agenda” to reform or change the world in which people are marginalized or disempowered (ibid).

My methodology is interdisciplinary; I pragmatically draw on a broad range of scholarship in critical theory (e.g., political economy of the digital culture industries), communication studies, computer mediated communication, linguistics, education studies, political science (political philosophy, democratic theory, Internet governance studies), applied ethics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and linguistics.

The framework that best describes my research is “Critical Studies of Social Media,” which includes: (1) critical theories, (2) actual uses, effects, and affordances, (3) the digital ecosystem, and (4) a values-based approach:

1) Critical studies is based on critical theories, especially political economy of ICT, and theories of hegemony, power, dominance, commodification, and exploitation, generally. Critical theories are used to evaluate the conflict of interest between industrial logic and user needs (e.g., prosumer commodification), and to help explain and identify underlying market forces of privatization, deregulation, and commercialization.

2) Theory is useful when combined with empirical studies of affordances, actual uses, and effects of technology by users/citizens/communities. Recognition of affordances supports the social shaping of technology perspective; designers and users shape the online world, who are in turn shaped via social media (e.g., identities, sociality, and relational patterns). Recognizing the cultural aspects of social media (norms, practices, values, and attitudes) helps identify the user’s role in shaping social media, as well as underscore potential benefits and limitations of social media use in daily life.

Potential benefits may include:

  • communication power for social and political change
  • a digital commons as a counterweight to the abuse of government and corporate power on the Internet (free and open source technologies, platforms, and services)
  • information literacy for self empowerment and civic engagement  (direct democracy)
  • open education
  • distributed citizen-focused news gathering and reporting
  • enhanced creative expression (peer production, user-generated, collaborative)
  • economic development and human welfare

Potential limitations (constraints on freedom of expression and user autonomy):

  • informational privacy and data mining
  • government surveillance of social media
  • Internet filtering and blocking
  • commodification of participation as labor
  • copyright extremism
  • market dominance (vendor lock-in, user dependency, rival exlusion)
  • information silos and walled gardens due to personalization services (closed internet)
  • harmful social impacts including: discrimination, social stratification, and inequality within social media spaces based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, nationality

3) The digital ecosystem is a conceptual and analytic framework for analyzing and describing potential and existing relationships and interactions between Internet technologies, platforms, and services. A multi-layered stratified view of the Internet (e.g., Benkler-Lessig model of physical layer, code layer, and content layer – among many other models) takes into account infrastructure, socio-technical designs of services and how they interact (e.g., interoperability), ownership, conglomeration, governance (ICANN), regulatory and legal contexts.

4) Guiding my study of social media are underlying values based on human rights and democratic principles including: privacy, right to assemble and associate, freedom of expression and opinion, digital equality and inclusion, freedom of speech and the press, government transparency, and a new media environment that encourages “uninhibited, robust, and wide open” (Sullivan, 376 U. S. at 256, 265) communication for civic engagement, information exchange, and creative self expression. Ultimately, a values-based approach theorizes emancipatory practices of social media design in support of a “people centered, inclusive and development-oriented information society for all” (WSIS, 2005).

This framework, “Critical Studies of Social Media” (1) critical theories, (2) actual uses, effects, and affordances, (3) the digital ecosystem, and (4) a values-based approach, can be seen in most of my writings available on my professional website and on my page.

A good example of applying the critical studies of social media framework is found in my recent article, “Regimes of Sharing: Open APIs, Interoperability, and Facebook” published in the fourth Association of Internet Researchers special issue of Information, Communication, and Society, and reprinted in the German critical reader on Facebook, Generation Facebook: Über das Leben im Social Net (Verlag, 2011). The article looks closely at the privacy implications of sharing among social media and third party websites, especially the attempts by Facebook to achieve interoperability at the cost of maintaining users’ fixed online identities.

Critical Theory – critical political economic analysis explains the market logic and incentives for asymmetrical interoperability among social networks and third party websites and applications. Additionally, political economy helps to identify the push and pull between market dominance and competition. Theories of user exploitation and commodification of social labor (prosumers) illuminate company values behind sharing that conflict with users’ needs, rights, and freedoms. Identifying discourses that support the cultural norms of sharing are also helpful in this analysis.

Uses, effects, affordances – empirical analysis of interoperability explains how data is shared between Facebook and its third-party vendors. The effects of interoperability on data integrity and informational privacy become evident with an analysis of the technical affordances of Open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that enable sharing among sites and services online. Cultural practices of sharing and network effects are also taken into consideration.

Digital Ecosystem – the interrelation and interaction of the dominant social network Facebook and its third party ecosystem helps to identify how technologically enabled and regulated forms of interoperability create dependency among vendors (third party applications and websites). Mutual dependency and symbiosis are two features that characterize the ecosystemic relationships between the SNS and its online partners.

Values – the values of informational privacy, user autonomy, and freedom guide this analysis and critique, and indicate how users and designers can change the underlying conditions for sharing in emerging social networks sites.

[For a great introduction to the theories and methods of a critical communication scholar that influenced me a great deal is Herbert Schiller by Richard Maxwell.]

“Assessing the value of anonymous communication online”

April 6, 2012

PowerPoint and outline of recent invited talk, “Assessing the value of anonymous communication online” by Robert Bodle, PhD (USC), Associate Professor of Communication and New Media Studies, College of Mount St. Joseph.


  • “We are all Khaled Said” – anonymity as political freedom
  • Facebook wants anonymity to go away
    • real name only policy
    • sociotechnical design
    • culture and condition for sharing
  • fb’s arguments for upholding fixed user identity
    • safety
    • the civilizing effect
    • market incentives
  • double edged attributes of anonymity
    • prevents accountability
    • disinhibition
    • depersonalization
  • human rights dimensions of anonymity
    • privacy
    • freedom of assembly
    • freedom of expression
  • democratic freedoms and anonymous speech
    • tolerate offensive speech
    • free speech, free press
    • encourage uninhibited, robust and wide open speech
    • avoid elements of an authoritarian regime (Bollinger)
  • human rights and democratic freedoms online and offline/assert the conditions for sharing
    • pseudonyms
    • anonymous communication
    • privacy
    • freedom from surveillance

Monetizing Social Media: The conditions for sharing

November 18, 2011

A presentation for the Critical and Cultural Studies Division, “Voices for Sale: Monetizing Social Media” National Communication Association, New Orleans, LA (November 2011), organized by Christopher M. Boulton, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; with Kathleen M. Kuehn, Christopher Newport University; and James Hamilton, University of Georgia.

Monetizing Social Media: The conditions for sharing by Robert Bodle, College of Mount St. Joseph

I have been researching, writing, and talking about the conditions for sharing on Google, Facebook, and other online spaces and services for some time,

Mostly interrogating the tacit agreement between Internet companies and users, that we get wonderful applications for free, but not really for free, at a cost.

This cost, as many of us already know, is the disclosure of our personal information (and sale of that info to advertisers)

But so what? Why does this matter?

I was worried about this question, especially when I first began to cover this tacit agreement in my new media and society classes.

After covering at length how our information is shared online, many of my students were somewhat concerned but mostly appreciative of the benefits of Google, Facebook, and other online services, regardless of how they function.

Today, I am happy to see that my students are becoming more aware of the conditions of sharing on SNSs, without my help,  when a freshman recently told me that she was repelled by the “creep factor” of FB’s “Real-Time Activity” feature on the upper right hand of her Facebook wall. Hooray!

Recent polls conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicate that people are very concerned about their privacy from all demographic groups, bearing out the truth of my anecdote.

Perhaps this is why there are rumors circulating in the industry press that Facebook will start to make its privacy changes opt-in, instead of opt out (by default).

Yet, while we’re becoming more concerned about how our information may be used, it is still difficult to get the full picture, and of course, this is intentional.

To get a fuller picture of the conditions of our sharing, I ask how are we sharing? what is being shared? what are the market incentives and the consequences?

I cover “the how” at length in another article, Regimes of Sharing.

But quickly, in order to participate in  the main currents of social and political life many of us are participating on social media sites, whether we actually are on these sites or not (e.g., “Liking” an op-ed on

And while we are sharing with one another, and moving from site to site, we are also sharing with our social media services, advertisers, and other third party websites ( within and outside of social media spaces. (Technically thiis done with the help of cookies and Open APIs).

What was once surreptitious gathering of our data under the awareness of users and without our consent (e.g., Beacon),

is now freely given through social plug-ins, such as the “Like” button.

Whenever we “Like” something using FB’s Like button on websites outside of we share this preference

Which is combined with much more personally identifiable data, including a running log that tracks our web browsing session with “date, time and web address of the webpage you’ve clicked to . . . IP address, screen resolution, operating system and browser version” for 90 days.

What is not clearly known is how much of this information is being shared with Facebook’s 300 million third-party websites, including powerful yet little known marketing and data processing firms like Acxiom Corporation (largest data mining company in the world).

Again, the obvious answer as to why this information is shared is the profit motive, our social labor is being converted to financial value for companies, and some have suggested that not only should we get the use of online spaces but that we also get a cut. I would argue that we should at least have the choice, because,

The condition for use on social media sites and cloud services is that we submit to surveillance, monitoring, and targeted advertising for “personalized web experiences.”

My Central Claim is that we need to change the conditions for sharing (granular control, transparency of how info is used, security measures to protect our data).

Yet, we might still ask, “what’s the big deal?”

There are intended and unintended consequences.

Among the intended consequences are that our online history is used to serve relevant and interesting news and information, advertisements, and money saving deals that coincide with our past interests.

Another intended consequence is that while Facebook turns our information into product – where we are the product, it takes away what Tavani calls our informational privacy, or “control over one’s daily activities, personal lifestyle, finances, medical history, and academic achievement stored and transmitted over ICTs.”

This loss of control over one’s own information deprives us of the freedom to make informed decisions on our own behalf.

When we lose the ability to control our information, we lose our autonomy and self-determination.

In political economy terms, this loss of control over our information reconfigures social relations between social media sites and individuals

establishing a power imbalance,

where we become more dependent and vulnerable to the SNS, and to the intended and unintended consequences such as government access to our data, and the implications of a personalized Web . . .

As our information is shared with third parties to serve ads inside and outside of facebook, it helps to construct,

what Eli Pariser calls the Filter Bubble or the personalization of content,

Through a human/algorithmic hybridization our past clicks help rank most of what we see online, including:

our friends feeds, news stories, and search queries.

This personalization makes us four times more likely to click on a link (FastCompany) which is the intended consequence, but

it also helps “to shape the information diets of its users” (Novey, July 1st, 2011).

The problem is that this process is invisible, we’re not aware this is going on (because we don’t see it happening), and ultimately,

it limits our exposure to different points of views, enabling entrenched political polarization, preventing real consensus, critical thinking, and tolerance of diversity and appreciation of our irreducible differences in society.

My question, then, is that by the time we all come around to what is happening, when navigating the Web feels like exploring our own subconscious such as in Being John Malkovich, will the conditions for sharing matter to us?

Thank you.